NEWS New Faces

A big SCBWI welcome to our new Co-RA, Alison Gardiner, whom many of you already know from the Conference and PULSE teams.

A nomad might be the best way to describe me. Born in Oxford, I then moved to Jamaica which should have been deeply memorable, except for my being two at the time. What followed was an idyllic childhood, running barefoot and feral for six years, speaking Jamaican patois to my friends. We swam in Morgan’s Harbour, ate coconuts off the tree and passion fruit straight from the vine. 

We grew wonderful, exotic plants in the garden and my very creative mother, who didn’t like waste, made our bananas into everything imaginable. I still use her banana bread recipe today, although the one for banana soup has rightly vanished into the culinary mists.

There followed a four year sojourn in Atlanta. On returning to the UK we moved around more often than I had birthdays (back then, annually; now I increase in age about every 3-4 years). We lived variously in London, Derby, the Outer Hebrides. Two years in Gibraltar improved my Spanish, returning to Reigate improved my English. This tumbleweed existence sparked in me the spirit of travel, a love of all things tropical, the joy of freedom a child can have and a love of languages.

Doubtless I’m in good company in feeling that writing for children is the best job in the world, unleashing the imagination to fly in all directions (yes, you guessed it, I’m a pantser), feeling the joy of children delving into your work and loving your characters (even though you find them infuriating at times, especially when they talk back). In a world where there’s so much sadness and hardship, there’s comfort that many young people find friends and escape between pages, surround themselves with words, are transported to another place, while soaking up skills that may lead to a better future.

As a volunteer for SCBWI, I’m very average on badge and raffle selling skills but, being a bit like a Labrador puppy (friendly and affectionate) I can chat for England. I was also medical cover for the conferences, thus spent many of them with my fingers mentally crossed, hoping nobody would collapse so I could stay firmly rooted in a talk, soaking up the atmosphere and fun. It’s hard to do CPR while taking lecture notes (top tip: avoid this).

In taking on the Co-Regional Advisor position I intend to work very closely with the SCBWI community, gathering ideas, helping to translate them into progress. I’m keen to focus on what we do well, respond to change while recognising that we are a vibrant eclectic community, embracing our differences. Although the zenith of my drawing ability is an amoeba, my heart is with illustrators and I’d like to ensure that illustrators are well represented and to draw on their creative ideas. I’d like to assist underrepresented groups to have a voice, push to develop their writing talent thus perhaps help others find a creative outlet.

I’ve had some practice in the joy of turning positive ideas into solid reality when Conference Chair in Manchester in 2022, which I absolutely loved. It was wonderful to facilitate the bringing together of wonderful speakers at a new venue working with a fantastic team, all striving, thinking, laughing together (is there a book in that? Strive, Think, Laugh?). Working with those who are creative, committed, people-focused, aiming for a common goal is extraordinary, very potent, extremely motivating. This excitement and momentum can be translated into other projects around the country.

What is the electronic equivalent of an open door policy? Perhaps an open email policy? Ether availability? Cognitively fluid? Whatever it is, that’s me; I’d be delighted to receive any ideas from creatives around the country of what you’d like to see happen, if you felt anything could be done differently or if there are any challenges that you’re facing that we might be able to help with.

Alison can be reached on

*image credit: Alison Gardiner


Stephanie Cotela is the Network News & Events Editor at Words & Pictures magazine.

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